Literary Desire


In this review of Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critiquethe author looks at contemporary literary criticism.

Felski asks what might happen if we looked not “behind the text” but “in front of the text, reflecting on what it unfurls, calls forth, makes possible.” In doing so, she seeks to rehabilitate the validity and importance of what we might call “literary desire”: the force that drives you to reread your favorite book yet again; or to finish that work of genre fiction even when you know the ending; or to press a beloved book awkwardly into a distant acquaintance’s hands in hopes that she, too, will come to love what you love and might one day talk with you about it.

First Things

Painting by Brianna Keeper

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American Health Care: Is It Worth It?


As Republicans debate plans to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), it’s useful to look at just what Americans get from their expensive health care system:

Although anecdotal evidence suggests that waiting times are lower in the U.S. than in other countries, true quality indicators are difficult to derive due to measurement errors. So it’s difficult to say definitively that U.S. consumers get better-quality care than people in other industrialized countries, but their care is definitely the most expensive.

San Antonio Review

Image: Healthcare.gov

Are You Ready To Consider That Capitalism Is The Real Problem?


Is capitalism the problem?

Probably.

There are people in the U.S. fighting against the Keystone pipeline. There are people in Britain fighting against the privatization of the National Health Service. There are people in India fighting against corporate land grabs. There are people in Brazil fighting against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. There are people in China fighting against poverty wages. These are all noble and important movements in their own right. But by focusing on all these symptoms we risk missing the underlying cause. And the cause is capitalism. It’s time to name the thing.

Fast Company

Image: Painting by William O. Pate II

The Rise of the Thought Leader


When did a TED talk become a philosophy course?

The rich have, Drezner writes, empowered a new kind of thinker—the “thought leader”—at the expense of the much-fretted-over “public intellectual.” Whereas public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Martha Nussbaum are skeptical and analytical, thought leaders like Thomas Friedman and Sheryl Sandberg “develop their own singular lens to explain the world, and then proselytize that worldview to anyone within earshot.” While public intellectuals traffic in complexity and criticism, thought leaders burst with the evangelist’s desire to “change the world.” Many readers, Drezner observes, prefer the “big ideas” of the latter to the complexity of the former. In a marketplace of ideas awash in plutocrat cash, it has become “increasingly profitable for thought leaders to hawk their wares to both billionaires and a broader public,” to become “superstars with their own brands, sharing a space previously reserved for moguls, celebrities, and athletes.”

The New Republic

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper

Citizen Philosophers


Did you know Brazilians are required to study philosophy?

In Ribeiro’s neighborhood, children play football or do capoeira, pray in Pentecostal Churches or worship African gods. Many are involved with drugs; “every year we lose students to crack,” she tells me. And they study philosophy two hours each week because of a 2008 law that mandates philosophy instruction in all Brazilian high schools. Nine million teenagers now take philosophy classes for three years.

. . .

That’s not surprising, considering that the 2008 law is above all a political project. In 1971 the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 eliminated philosophy from high schools. Teachers, professors in departments of education, and political activists championed its return, while most academic philosophers were either indifferent or suspicious. The dictatorship seems to have understood philosophy’s potential to create engaged citizens; it replaced philosophy with a course on Moral and Civic Education and one on Brazil’s Social and Political Organization (“to inculcate good manners and patriotic values and to justify the political order of the generals,” one UFBA colleague recalls from his high school days).

The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality. Can it do even more? Can it teach students to question and challenge the foundations of society itself?

Boston Review

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper

Never-Before-Published Hannah Arendt on What Freedom and Revolution Really Mean


Many will be interested in this “Never-Before-Published Hannah Arendt on What Freedom and Revolution Really Mean.”

In the 1960s, some years after the publication of her book On Revolution, Hannah Arendt lived in a world of revolutionary events, to which she was particularly sensitive. Such events included the expulsion of Krushchev in the Soviet Union; the construction of the Berlin Wall dividing Germany into two states; the Cuban missile crisis; the so-called “Quiet Revolution” in Canada, nationalistic in character; the Civil Rights movements here and abroad; anti-war protests, some of which were deadly, here and in Europe; military coups in South Korea, Vietnam, and Greece; Pope John XXIII’s profoundly revolutionary Second Vatican Council; the horror of the Cultural Revolution in China; the scientific revolution best known as “the conquest of space”; and the ongoing decolonization and independence battles in formerly imperial domains.

This manuscript, never before published, is marked “A Lecture” and dated “1966-67.” Where and when it was delivered, or if it was delivered, is not known. The manuscript seems too long for a single lecture. It might have been given at the University of Chicago where Arendt was teaching at the time in the School on Social Thought. Or it could have been at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, which Arendt agreed to join in 1967, primarily to be in New York, close to her husband, Heinrich Bluecher, who was unwell. The where and when of the lecture have not been confirmed, though extant records have been thoroughly searched.

Literary Hub

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper

Dead Dogs


What do pit bull bans tell us about the freedom-versus-security dilemma?

In legal rationales, realities are created. Old inequalities and radical discrimination are repackaged in unexpected forms. In breed-specific legislation, the taint and incapacity of the disenfranchised live on. At a time when our government is labeling certain persons as threats—alleged terrorists, enemy aliens, illegal immigrants, ordinary people who want to get on airplanes—we need to ask how the seizure and destruction of dogs deemed contraband becomes a medium for the intimidation and debasement of humans in turn. Who should suffer deprivation without redress so that we can live in reasonable—safe and secure—consensus? And who gets to decide?

Boston Review

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper